36 cases of E. coli now linked to Lynden dairy event

A total of 36 people have been sickened in an E. coli outbreak linked to the Milk Makers Fest, according to an update provided by the Whatcom County Health Department on Friday, May 1.

Five have been hospitalized.

About 1,325 Whatcom County first-graders, plus the teachers and parents who accompanied them, from all the school districts in Whatcom County went to the event April 21-23 at the Northwest Washington Fair & Event Center in Lynden. The 22nd annual festival was sponsored by the Whatcom County Dairy Women.

The health department is continuing to look for the source of the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The number of people sickened by the bacterial infection has continued to rise since reports started to surface earlier this week.

The Milk Makers Fest introduced young students to farming. It also gave them a chance to pet farm animals, including small horses, sheep, rabbits, chickens and a calf. There was a hay maze and scavenger hunt as well.

Most of those reported ill were first-graders. Some adults and older children who were at the event also became sickened, according to the health department.

Of the 36 cases traced to the festival:

• 18 have been confirmed by the state’s public health lab or tested positive at local labs — or were people with E. coli symptoms who had been in close contact with someone in the first two groups.

• 18 additional people had been at the festival and were sick but lab results, some of which were pending, weren’t available yet.

The health department has been interviewing the sick students and their parents to find out whether there was a common food or water source or activity, such as the petting zoo or other contact with livestock.

Symptoms of the bacterial illness include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that is often bloody, and vomiting. Illness occurs up to eight days after people are infected, which happens when they swallow minute amounts of feces, usually not visible to the naked eye.

The main sources for E. coli are contaminated food, water and surfaces, along with contact with livestock.

It is common for E. coli to be spread to others living in the same household.

The Washington state Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Epidemiology is helping the county health department investigate the outbreak.